When talking about what clutter is, there’s a diverse range of definitions offered by different people, depending on their experiences and personality. Generally, clutter can be defined as belongings that you own that aren’t needed, used or loved, and get in your way as you try to live around them. They are things that overwhelm you, annoy you and cramp up your home.
Clutter can come from many sources and take many forms.
This is the stuff you’re not dealing with because you have certain ways you wish for it to be dealt with, but don’t have the time to do it “just so”. Perfectionists can collect clutter because quite often their behaviours are based around the belief that if you do something, you need to do it perfectly. The thing is, perfection is usually unattainable, so they don’t do anything, and the clutter stays.
Embrace the idea of “good enough”, and if you can’t do that, try seeing things in phases – getting something done is phase one, and then perfecting it is phase two. That way, you will at least reduce your list of stuff to do, and the clutter along with it.
Sometimes clutter is not really clutter as such – it’s just disorder! You may have stuff laying around that gets in your way, creating more work and causing stress, but it’s stuff you need, use or love. These things cause stress, not because they are clutter but because they don’t have a home. When items are homeless, they’re either left wherever they were last used or are stashed wherever they fit. When you put things in temporary homes it’s easy to forget where they are, which means you’ll more spend time searching for them, or more money replacing them.
Every item in your house should have a permanent home. Assign a home based on broad category first (what other kinds of things does it “go with” in your house? What items would it hang out with if they all came to life in the middle of the night?) and then once you’ve decided what category it falls into, you put them together in a home that makes sense to you. And as for those things that don’t have a home because they don’t always live with you, you can create a “halfway house” home for things that come and go. You’ll always then have a permanent home set aside for those transient items and projects that seem to come and go from your life.
Stuff That Belongs To Other People
How much of your clutter is actually yours? How much do other people have stashed in your garage or spare room. How much of your adult kids’ stuff is still hanging around? How much have you put aside for someone else but haven’t manage to get it to them?
Time to ship it out!
It’s hard to part with things that you have a connection to in some way. Sentimental clutter are the items that someone gave to you, or made, or that represent a time in your past, or remind you of someone.
Often, though, people will keep an item for sentimental reasons even if that item causes them stress. There are many times when someone will keep something because it’s sentimental, but they don’t actually like the item, or use it, or need it. They keep it more out of guilt than any other emotion. In this case, you should ask yourself how the item really makes you feel. Does it make you feel wonderful? Keep it. If it makes you feel sad, anxious or guilty, it should go.
Other times, people will keep things because they do give them a wonderful feeling, but they keep too many of them and feel overwhelmed by the volume. In this case, ask yourself “how much is enough to meet my emotional needs?”. How many of Grandma’s vases are enough to get the warm fuzzies without overflowing the cupboards? You can still get the emotional need met, but without the overwhelm.
This is the “I’m going to do or be something with this” clutter. This type of clutter is when we buy things because we have Grand Plans. Sometimes it’s art- or craft-related, sometimes it’s tech-related and sometimes it just simply sparked your imagination and so you bought it. Unfortunately, it’s been hanging around for a while because you haven’t made the time to do the creating, and so it’s become clutter.
If you find you’re saying things like “When I get time I’ll make that scrapbook” or “It’s too pretty to get rid of, I’ll sew something with it at some stage”, then you need to set yourself some deadlines and discard the stuff if you don’t meet them. Sometimes you need to let go of some of your belongings so you have the space to create with what’s left.
A LOT of clutter is simply due to deferred decision-making. But why do we avoid doing it? Because it’s hard work! It’s tough; it forces us to face the reality of the aspirations we’re not going to achieve, of the memories we don’t want to forget, of the good money we wasted on something we don’t use, of the fear of missing out, of the anxiety over getting rid of something that you might need some day. That is why we defer decisions – we’re afraid of the consequences of parting with the belongings.
Ask yourself “What’s the worst that could happen if I let go of this?”. When we look properly at the true consequences, they often aren’t nearly as bad as we initially think. Instead of thinking “but I might need it some day” or “but I spent good money on it” or “I need it just in case”, tell yourself “I’m safe, I’m smart and I’m resourceful – I can survive not having this!”.
Rebecca Mezzino is one of Australia’s most experienced Declutter Coaches. Through her business Clear Space, she has been helping people to simplify their lives for over 13 years. An expert in teaching people how to have a positive relationship with their belongings, Rebecca is a sought-after media source, industry mentor, speaker, and trainer. She’s also a mother, geek, master detangler and rock-climber.